Fritz Scholten is a native of Germany with degrees in international trading and business administration/economics. A steel industry and materials expert, he was head manager in executive positions at major German steel trading companies. He has started three successful businesses in a variety of industrial fields, including composites.
How does your company fit into the composites industry?
We manufacture equipment for production of advanced multi-directional reinforcements used in advanced composite applications such as automotive, wind energy, marine and aerospace industries.
How can composites meet automotive needs?
The automotive industry is focused on the need to cost effectively improve vehicle fuel efficiency through weight-savings without reducing vehicle safety. Germany, for example, has the strategic goal to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2020. I believe electric and hybrid vehicles will become a major force, and composites can help to reduce their weight and improve efficiency. They’ve already demonstrated the capability to significantly reduce vehicle weight without adverse impact on safety and structural integrity. They can improve vehicle performance through weight reduction without sacrificing comfort, space and other amenities. In general, I would say that anyone who brings a reinforcement to the market that has a Class A finish, has equal or better physical properties, is lighter than current fabrics, and is much more cost efficient will have a bright future—and that’s not only in the automotive industry.
Why hasn’t it happened already?
The bottleneck in cost reduction is the reason for the relatively low productivity of the established technologies for the production of dry reinforcement fabrics in any fiber type. New technologies are focused on cutting costs and opening new markets. The fact that our company won the NoAE Innovation (Network of Automotive Excellence) competition has brought us attention from some major global players in the auto industry. The ball is now in our court and we have to deliver.
What questions do consumers ask?
Most are very familiar with current advanced composite reinforcement options and understand the benefits that they offer the marketplace. As a start-up company, it was very difficult over the last few years to communicate our vision to potential partners. We even realized that dominant forces in the market were making it difficult to really succeed. However, now that we have strong relationships with global authorities in carbon fiber and the NoEA Innovation award on our side, we hope to successfully bring our composite products into the global marketplace.
What’s challenging about working in the automotive industry?
The biggest challenge is the time required to get new composite parts to market due to necessary certification, testing and safety assurance as well as normal challenges when introducing new technology that requires significant capital investment and new labor skills.